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A. A Paleontology Puzzle Solved At Last

Narrator: This is Science Today. Paleontologists now have the answer to a 180-year-old question about the origin of the ichthyosaur, a dolphin-like reptile that swam the Mesozoic seas as early as 250 million years ago. It was thought these creatures were ancestors of crocodiles, lizards, birds and snakes - and therefore, were placed within their group. But in analyzing the oldest fossil to date, Ryosuke Motani, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, found ichthyosaurs actually fall outside this group.

Motani: They are like the cousin of today's living reptiles, plus birds.

Narrator: The fossil studied was highly distorted. So using basic math and a computer program, Motani developed a way to undistort the picture and for the first time, get a clear view of a primitive ichthyosaur.

Motani: In early stages, they were more elongated and looked like lizards. And that's what their ancestors looked like, actually. They were lizard looking creatures, but not a lizard itself.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.